This last May, a new memorial dedicated to those lives lost in Jonestown finally became a tangible reality. Four large markers displaying the names of those lost in Guyana now lay in the ground of Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, California at the site of the mass-grave where over 400 victims of the Jonestown massacre are buried. The long-overdue memorial was finally made possible through the generous financial contributions of friends, family, and sympathetic citizens who wanted to see this project finally come to fruition. The result is a beautiful and fitting monument to the lives lost on November 18, 1978.
Surprisingly, the effort to erect the monument was met with resistance by individuals who viewed the project as disrespectful to the memories of the deceased. Claiming that the inclusion of Jim Jones’ name on the memorial was tantamount to putting Adolf Hitler’s name on a holocaust memorial, certain parties sought legal injunctions to stop the project from moving forward. Those efforts failed, and despite threats of a disruptive physical presence at the dedication ceremony, plans for an official unveiling moved confidently forward. Fortunately for all who attended, the threats were never followed through with, and the ceremony proceeded unimpeded.
As to what I observed that day, I can only say that what I saw….what I felt….what I know, is that truth, love, and compassion reigned over all those who attended the dedication ceremony. Anger, hate, and divisiveness were banished at the gate. What I saw was the convergence of hearts and minds – many became one. I could not ignore the overwhelming presence of a healing spirit that surrounded each and every person who had longed to see this memorial come to be. It was hard not to be personally moved by the tears, smiles, laughter, and sometimes solemn silence that danced among the small groups as they mingled with friends and loved ones. It truly was a beautiful thing.
I remain steadfast in my personal belief that the monument erected in Evergreen Cemetery is completely appropriate, proper, and fitting. It provides a place for friends and family of the deceased to come and experience healing and, perhaps, closure. For the rest of us, the memorial should serve as a concrete reminder to focusnot on the shock and intrigue of the so-called “Cult of Peoples Temple.” Rather let it be a shining beacon directing us to remember the people – and the humanity – lost in Jonestown.